'Black Widow' Suffers Worst Box Office Drop in MCU History, Theater Owners Blame Disney+

Black Widow Tumbles

Theaters are reopening, movies are coming back… but not everyone’s entirely happy with the final result.

Everything seemed to be coming up Disney when Black Widow debuted a week ago to $80 million domestic and broke pandemic box office records, which were further boosted by the studio’s purposeful inclusion of Disney+ Premiere Access rentals. This past weekend paints a slightly less rosy picture, as the Scarlett Johansson/Florence Pugh-starring Marvel flick tumbled by a staggering 67% in its second weekend of release. Relative to Marvel’s usual expectations, the numbers aren’t pretty: $26.3 million and a distant second spot to WB’s Space Jam: A New Legacy.

For comparison’s sake, it’s not quite as bad as the negative word of mouth-inspired decreases experienced by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice or 2015’s Fantastic Four. However, this represents the MCU’s worst second weekend drop, besting the 62% by previous record-holders Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ant-Man and the Wasp (both of whom still went on to leg out solid totals, even after such a drop). It remains to be seen how the pandemic continues to affect Black Widow’s performance, but it’s also important to note that no release date in China has been set yet. All things considered, the (arguably long overdue) solo/passing of the torch movie for Natasha Romanoff is still on pace for roughly $200 million domestic (comparable to Thor: The Dark World). Notably, Disney hasn’t released any of its Disney+ profits this time around.

The NATO Controversy

This is where it really gets interesting. The National Association of Theatre Owners released a blistering statement in response to these disappointing box office numbers. Much in the same way that Disney has a stake in presenting its box office totals as positively as they can, NATO also is invested in doing away with these sorts of day-and-date hybrid releases between theaters and each studio’s own streaming service. Remember that $60 million reported by Disney last week, claiming to be profits from placing Black Widow on Premier Access on Disney+? Theoretically, that’s $60 million that came out of the pockets of theater owners.

According to NATO:

“Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improvised release strategy was a success for Disney and the simultaneous release model, it demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life.”

The group goes on to claim that Black Widow should’ve achieved anywhere between $92-100 million opening weekend and even as much as $130 million. Obviously, the pandemic makes it all but impossible to speak out about these hypotheticals with any real sense of confidence. NATO, however, also brings up the undeniable prevalence of online piracy that has skyrocketed as a result of its immediate access on Disney+. Marvel films tend to be at the top of Most Pirated lists, even before the pandemic, but NATO points to these numbers as further proof that this model is only making things worse for everyone.

Obviously, it’s in their best interests to spin these numbers to seem like a threat to the very existence of theaters everywhere. Likewise, Disney will certainly never depict these sorts of flagging box office figures as anything less than an outright success. In the midst of this standoff is that elephant in the room known as the coronavirus pandemic, which is by far the main culprit behind any lost profits on either side. Even vaccinated individuals aren’t in a rush to return to theaters, to say nothing of the overall pre-pandemic attendance numbers that have been on a steady downhill track for years.

In short, it’s very likely true that Black Widow’s availability on streaming cut into its theatrical numbers. At the same time, isn’t it a good thing from a health and safety standpoint that families were able to enjoy a movie from the comfort of their homes rather than going out in the middle of a pandemic? These debates aren’t cooling off anytime soon, especially considering Warner Bros. and HBO Max’s similar approach with their library of movies. Stay tuned to /Film for more as this situation develops.

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